Mingrelia or Mengrelia, is home to the Megrelians, a distinctive sub group of Georgians who have their own language. The region is divided into a low-lying wetland around the major seaport of Poti and a hilly northern section, guarding the approaches to Svaneti. Megrelian food, much more spicy than in the rest of Georgia, includes dishes that almost taste like curry such as Bazhe and Satsivi, as well as maize and cheese sticky goodness called Elargi, and a local variant of Khatchapuri. Along with sampling the local specialties, no visit to Zugdidi is complete without a trip to the Dadiani Palace Museum. Housed in an extraordinary neo-gothic pile, the museum displays the collection of the Dadiani family, the former Dukes of Samegrelo. Along with swords, guns, antiquarian books and a shawl believed to have been worn by the Virgin Mary, the museum also contains one of only three copies of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death mask. The mask found its way to Georgia after Napoleon’s nephew married into the Dadiani family.
The highest permanently inhabited place in Europe, Svaneti truly has to be seen to be believed.
Svaneti is real highland territory, with several peaks rising to over 5000 meters, and some of the most challenging mountaineering anywhere in the world. the region’s real treasure is the culture of its people - the Svans. With their own language, related to but distinct from Georgian, their own ancient traditions and crafts, and their immense sense of honor, Svans have always been a proudly independent people.
Reflecting their pride and independence, many Svans today still live in medieval towers, of which thousands survive. These towers, some with foundations dating back a millennium, were used to protect families in time of war, and some still house ancient treasures, brought up to Svaneti hundreds of years ago to guard them from invaders. Indeed, Svaneti’s museums boast world class collections of icons, religious manuscripts and jewellery.
he combination of awe inspiring scenery and jaw dropping medieval architecture is why Svaneti is a UNESCO world heritage site.
he area may even be the true home of the Golden Fleece. The ancient state of Colchis, to which Svaneti belonged, was the fabled home of the Fleece until Jason stole it. But rather than stealing the fleece, what Jason may have been looking for was a method of panning for gold still used today in Svaneti. By fixing a sheep’s fleece to a wooden support and leaving it in one of Svaneti’s fast flowing mountain streams, particles of gold collect in the wool. The fleece is then dried and burned, leaving a solid lump of gold. This ancient technology, still practiced in Svaneti to this day, could be the truth behind the legend of the Golden Fleece.